I don’t believe in hardware reviews – not only does the hardware itself change over time, but so does a person’s feelings towards the hardware. Take Wii U, for example – when I first got my hands on one at Tokyo Game Show in 2012, I was really impressed. I bought one on release day and absolutely LOVED it. Now? I can’t stand playing anything on that system, because everything about it gets in the way of simply playing a game.
As a result, while I was excited about the possibilities of the Switch at its announcement, I was somewhat cautiously optimistic. I even went as far as suggesting that I wouldn’t buy one on release day (shock! horror!), but would wait until things had “settled in”… Of course, I am nothing if not a well-trained consumer of Nintendo products, and I dutifully picked one up on launch day.
My initial thought was that the Switch was tiny. Did I consider the fact that this was a handheld unit in my assumptions? Probably not, but on first looking at the Switch, I thought it was too small. Compared to my Vita, though, the screen is larger by a good margin, and with the Joy Con controllers attached to the sides, I started to think it was maybe too large. After a good 50 hours of play, it’s probably just right, but clearly I can’t make my mind up in this regard.
The Joy Con controllers themselves are functional – at first glance, they felt OK, they played OK, and the fact they could be removed and played freely also seemed like a bonus. Attaching them to the Joy Con Grip approximated a modern controller set-up fairly well, so it all seemed like what you got out of the box was good enough.
And in some ways, it is. If you never use another controller with the system, these controllers are enough. However, I also grabbed a Pro controller, and realised just how NOT good enough the Joy Con controllers actually are – the Pro controller is perfect. The Joy Con buttons are too small. The control sticks are placed in appropriate, but unfamiliar, positions. The function buttons (Home, Capture, “+” and “-“) are also in unfamiliar places. Oh, and the “A” and “B” buttons are swapped, putting the “accept” and “cancel” functions at odds with both Xbox and PlayStation. Frustrating (note this last point also applies to the Pro controller, of course).
But again, the Joy Cons are totally serviceable – they do their job admirably, and provided you never use a Pro controller, are probably good enough. That said, I’d argue that the Pro controller is an essential purchase. When playing in TV mode, I refuse to play with any other controller.
On their own, as individual controllers, the Joy Cons are tiny. Great for little hands, so they became my kids controllers while I destroy them using the Pro controller. Works just fine – they love their little controllers. With the Joy Con straps (which attach to the slots on the side to provide some much-needed bulk and better positioning for the shoulder buttons), they begin to approximate an actual controller, and kudos to Nintendo for coming up with the idea – although in practice, they aren’t ideal for long bouts of play, unless you are into hand cramps. Of course, the addition of the Joy Con straps brings the Switch into Wii U territory – a bunch of additional components that are required in order to play a game. I’ll stick with the Pro controller.
While attached to the main unit, the Joy Cons turn the machine into a nifty handheld – again, imperfect, but so are the 3DS and Vita, for that matter. In fact, for gaming on the go, the Switch is verging on perfection… if you can afford almost $500 for a fragile handheld, that is (and this is precisely the reason I’ve always argued that Nintendo does not intend for the Switch to replace the 3DS – it’s a premium price for a premium product, and not something to give to kids).
In tabletop mode, the screen is a little too small (in my opinion) for multiplayer gaming. It’ll work in a pinch, and may well keep the kids quiet here and there, but I don’t plan on too many tabletop sessions with friends…
When not docked, the Switch battery has a limited life – around 3 hours, in my experience. This isn’t terrible (3 hours of portable gaming is better than none), but not ideal for long-haul flights (unless said flight has USB power).
Playing games on the system so far has been a pleasure. I have The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (naturally), Super Bomberman R, and Fast RMX and all three play exceptionally well regardless of the method in which I play them (strangely, there is some slowdown in Zelda when docked, but nothing gamebreaking). Bomberman and Fast RMX allow for local multiplayer with multiple controller configurations, and switching between them all is a breeze – once you figure out for yourself how to do that.
To address the elephant in the room – yes, this system is clearly underpowered compared to Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but when you see that the games you are playing on this system are all running on something only slightly thicker than an iPad mini, and that you can take these games with you wherever you go, the power argument starts to become unimportant… I expect to see some high quality titles on this machine, and while it may not be able to play everything (which remains to be seen, of course), I have a feeling it might become the perfect place to play indies and retro remakes.
Speaking of games, there are actually a good number of titles available in the eShop, many of which are quite good (all three of the games I have are worthy, although I do think Super Bomberman R is overpriced for what it is), although many are ports of older titles (such as I am Setsuna, and Shovel Knight). Everything about the system is snappy, and fairly intuitive.
However… There are a number of unfortunate elements that make the system imperfect. For one, the USB-C power input is located on the base of the unit (which makes sense when you consider the docking facility). The problem with this, though, is that it makes it difficult to power the system while using it in tabletop mode. Seems like an oversight, but perhaps making changes to this may have had flow-on effects that made such a change unfeasible, and in reality, there are bound to be stands that make this less of an issue down the track (although the use of a stand negates the inclusion of the built-in kickstand -even given its flimsiness).
Further, while there is a headphone jack on the Switch itself, neither the Joy Con Grip nor the Pro controllers come with a headphone jack, which means that there’s no simple way to use headphones while paying off the TV. To some, this may not seem like a big deal, but 75% of my gaming is done with a headset on, so as not to bother my wife (otherwise I’d have to pay with the sound down so low I could barely hear it, because her ears are SENSITIVE).
Another major issue is in regards to the online services, or lack thereof. Sure, I can add friends, but for what purpose? I can’t invite them to a party for voice chat, and at the time of writing this, I can’t even message them, but I guess it’s nice to know I’m connected to other players… in some way, for whatever reason. In addition, there is yet to be any mention of the Virtual Console (Nintendo’s emulation system for retro games), but this is expected to come to the system at some point in the future. Nor is there the capability to install non-gaming apps such as Netflix or Spotify – or any way to play your own music or browse the Internet on the device at all. Does any of this really matter? Does it stop you from playing games? Well… no. But it would all flesh out what is currently a rather limited system.
The last issue is price. The unit itself is expensive, but squeezing a fairly high-powered console into a unit of this size can’t have been cheap. The accessories are also expensive – the Pro controller itself will set you back an additional $100, while a second dock (so that I can play on any TV in my house with relative ease) would cost me another $130! Uh… no thanks. Taking all of this into consideration, it’s not an easy decision as to whether or not the Switch is something you should fork out your hard-earner dollars on (and don’t let me tell you what you should or shouldn’t do).
That said, I’m enjoying my time with the Switch so far, and there are enough games on the horizon for me to feel that my purchase will be justified… eventually. In reality, you are unlikely to ONLY play The Legend of Zelda on this machine during its lifetime, so don’t judge the machine based on what is available now. I guess it’s telling that I’ve already decided to play certain games on the Switch, where I had originally planned to play them on PS4 (but to be clear, these are all retro remakes, such as Sonic Mania, and the new Wonderboy titles – AAA titles I’m almost certainly going to play on my PS4, but I’m perfectly happy with that).